The first time I remember seeing the World Serpent was in an illustration in a children’s book. There was a map, purposefully aged, and around the edges of the map a serpent, holding its own tail in its mouth, creating the boundary of a world on the page. Raised on the literalism of Southern Christianity’s interpretation of Biblical myths, I imagined the snake in the physical plane, wrapping around continents beneath the sea, the lines of its body echoing the tectonic plates, and I was captivated by the undulations of this body as border.
In Norse mythology, Jörmungandr, later called the World or Midgard Serpent, was the middle child of the giantess Angrbo∂a and Loki, the infamous trickster. When Odin discovered the serpent child’s existence, he threw Jörmungandr into the sea, where he grew so large he encircled the Earth. When I tell myself this story as an adult, Jörmungandr’s growth is the result of his lineage: giantess blood running through his veins, fueled by rebellion against his grandfather Odin’s attempt to destroy him. The ultimate retribution for Odin’s act is Jörmungandr’s importance in the Norse mythos: when the World Serpent releases his tail, Ragnarök will begin.
Since my childhood exposure to this story I have been fascinated by Ragnarök, the Twilight of the Gods, an apocalypse, unfixed in time, when the gods will die and the world will be immersed in water, only to surface, refreshed, ready to be repopulated and begin again its cycle, as eternal and tenuous as Jörmungandr’s fanged grip on his own tail.
Jörmungandr is an example of an ouroboros, one of those far-reaching symbols that appears in ancient Egyptian mythology, Renaissance alchemy, and even in Kundalini yoga. Ouroboros are symbols of eternal return, the cyclical nature of all things, constantly recreating the self, the infinite cycle of nature’s creation + destruction, life and death inextricably bound together. In this light the questions to ask are not When and If, but How do we see Ragnarök happening around us, our old gods crumbling, the snakes tail unleashed, the world birthing itself anew?
And in this space of destruction and creation, I’ve been feeling strongly that now is a time to examine the foundation upon which we build our temples. How are we in relationship to the earth beneath us and the cycles around us? If we are made up of all we take in, what is the material upon which our roots feed?